Kentucky football: What we liked and didn't like from UK's tough loss at Ole Miss
Kentucky’s unbeaten start fell by the wayside in Saturday’s 22-19 heartbreaker of a loss at Ole Miss.
In a game full of mistakes, the Wildcats still had 2 excellent chances to take the lead in the final minutes. But after a game of missed opportunities, the Wildcats fell short of victory.
Here’s the good and bad from Kentucky’s tough loss:
What we liked
1. The explosiveness of Barion Brown
Kentucky’s speedy freshman helped keep the Wildcats in the game early in Oxford. After Kentucky fell behind 14-0, Brown returned the Ole Miss kickoff 85 yards to give the Wildcats a short field for their first score of the game.
Brown added another big kick return in the 2nd half, finishing the day with 3 returns for 164 yards. Brown also caught a pair of passes for 81 yards, including a 51-yard reception that set up UK inside the Ole Miss 10 in the game’s final minute.
Brown is definitely asserting himself as UK’s big-play threat.
2. The return of Chris Rodriguez
The senior running back finally made his 2022 debut. While Rodriguez’s stat line wasn’t overwhelming (19 carries for 72 yards), it clearly helped the UK offense sustain any consistent ground game. Rodriguez also caught 3 passes for 40 yards, so Kentucky will likely continue to lean on him in the passing game.
3. The 2nd-half defense
After Kentucky trailed 19-6, things didn’t look good for the Wildcats. For the rest of the game though, the Wildcats defense delivered the following results: interception, punt, field goal, turnover on downs and punt.
The biggest of those was the turnover on downs, when Kentucky held inside the 10-yard line against an Ole Miss offense that went for it on 4th down rather than take a sure field goal. Safety Jordan Lovett broke up the 4th-down pass and helped the UK offense get another shot at victory.
Ole Miss had 3 points and 121 yards in the 2nd half, and UK’s defense had plenty to do with that.
What we didn’t like
1. Kicking woes
Two years ago, Kentucky lost to Ole Miss when Matt Ruffolo missed an overtime extra point. Maybe it’s something about the Rebels, because Ruffolo missed a 39-yard kick, had an extra point blocked and watched his holder get handcuffed on another extra-point try.
Giving away 5 points in a 3-point loss is certainly not a feather in the hat for a UK team that has had plenty of kicking issues already.
2. Red zone blues
With Will Levis’ pair of red zone fumbles in the 4th quarter, the Wildcats ended the day just 3 for 5 in red zone scoring opportunities.
On the season, that gives Kentucky 5 red-zone possessions that ended without scores. And the Wildcats have 12 touchdowns in 22 red-zone opportunities, which is the worst red-zone TD rate in the SEC.
The UK offense has been steady between the 20s but too often bogs down late.
3. Just too many mistakes
It’s not unusual for the losing team, but the Wildcats came away from Saturday’s loss feeling like they had shot themselves in the foot for much of the game.
Not only did Levis lose a pair of 4th-quarter red-zone fumbles, not only did the kicking game leave points on the field, but the Wildcats tripped up their own return man on a potential touchdown and lost the game-winning score when a senior quarterback didn’t make sure one of his receivers was set before he took the snap.
Ole Miss made plenty of plays, but Kentucky has to feel like taking care of just a few more details would have delivered a Wildcats victory.